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Little bitty Benton Harbor was the testing ground. It was the testing ground to see what they can get away with….It’s comin’ to your city next, whether you like it or not.
What do Michigan emergency managers, water rights, illegal corporate land acquisitions, and gentrification have to do with political prisoner Rev. Edward Pinkney? Rev. Pinkney has been fighting against injustice for decades in the small town of Benton Harbor, Michigan. But, his activism has reached far beyond Benton Harbor, the first city in Michigan to fall under the control of an emergency financial manager (EFM) in 2010.
In July 2014, Pinkney led a defiant protest of approximately 10,000 in Detroit and walked through the city turning the water back on at residences. The bankruptcy of Detroit had begun and the city had been shutting off water to families who hadn’t paid their water bills for even just one month. Everything that the Emergency Financial Manager Law (Public Act 4), by order of the governor’s office, was hitting Detroit with had already occurred in Benton Harbor. Pinkney knew what was coming to Detroit and other cities across the nation.
While Pinkney skillfully organized with activists against the debacle in Detroit, he also led the charge against Whirlpool Corporation (headquartered in Benton Harbor), decrying the loss of jobs outsourced by Whirlpool and the illegal acquisition of public land by Whirlpool front groups to build a 5-star golf resort and multi-million-dollar condominiums that would serve as a Lake Michigan playground for the wealthy elite. Benton Harbor residents, of whom over 90% are Black and nearly half live in poverty according to official statistics, suffered gentrification via lost jobs, the closing of locally owned stores replaced by artisan shops along the lakefront, and a corrupt justice system that incarcerated many poor, and particularly minority, Benton Harbor residents for minor infractions. Pinkney would not back down, would not be silent, would not stop organizing support for people’s rights.
In October 2015, news broke that Flint’s municipal water had poisoned unknown thousands and Gov. Snyder has been at the forefront of the scandal ever since. Normally, we would expect Pinkney to once again be leading in organizing for the needs and rights of the poor and marginalized. Instead Pinkney sits in Marquette Branch Prison in the Upper Peninsula suffering abuse, intimidation, and racism by correctional officers.
Pinkney’s been imprisoned before, once for quoting the Bible. He was also placed on probation after being falsely accused of forging absentee ballots in the recall of Benton Harbor city commissioner Glen Yarbrough and convicted by an all-white jury. Roadblocks such as these would have stopped the average activist, but Pinkney has never stopped fighting for justice. So, what led to his current incarceration? Here’s a timeline of events:
November 2013: Pinkney and another petitioner turned in almost twice the number of signatures required to hold a recall election of James Hightower, token Whirlpool mayor.
April 2014: A Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team surrounded Pinkney’s home with orders to bring him in dead or alive. He was charged with 5 felony counts of changing dates on petitions.
Oct 2014: Found guilty by an all-white jury after numerous witnesses supported Pinkney’s innocence with testimonies against the prosecution. One juror perjured herself, and the judge and prosecutor both instructed the jury that it could convict Pinkney with no direct evidence.
Dec 2014: Pinkney sentenced to 2.5-10 years and denied release on bond pending appeal.
August 2015: Pinkney denied bond pending appeal in a 2-1 decision in state court of appeals.
Sept 2015: Appeal was filed by Pinkney Attorney followed up by amicus briefs submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)-Michigan and the National Lawyers Guild.
Oct 2015: Pinkney abruptly transferred to Marquette Branch Prison, almost 500 miles from Benton Harbor, where he endures racism, intimidation, and harassment from corrections officers who have written false misconduct tickets for minor infractions (recently, Pinkney was written up for having a Bible on his bed and for having too much legal material). His phone privileges were revoked for six months and he was thrown into solitary confinement for six days after a local televised news report aired in Marquette.
Rev. Pinkney has been a thorn in the side of Whirlpool Corp. and corrupt judicial and government officials from both Berrien County and the state of Michigan for many years. Now he awaits the outcome of his appeals hearing at 10 a.m. on May 11 at the Appellate Court in Grand Rapids. He will not be present, but supporters from across the region are expected to attend and hold a press conference afterward. His attorney and the ACLU of Michigan will argue the appeal. The National Lawyers Guild also submitted a friend of the court brief.
Pinkney’s supporters have been vigilant in their support of this case which has received attention around the country, even internationally. But the corruption runs deep from Berrien County to state officials. Despite press conferences, requests for meetings, and phone calls, Michigan Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington has refused to seriously address the harassment and false misconduct tickets at Marquette Branch Prison. Michigan Governor Snyder has ignored requests to pardon Pinkney.
Meanwhile, Snyder and others have poisoned the entire city of Flint, but those most responsible for this genocide remain in office. Flint is still reeling from the devastating effects of lead-contaminated water on residents, especially children, and is still fighting for clean water, replacement of corroded pipes, care for long-term health consequences, and for those responsible to be held accountable. Detroit continues to fight against water shutoffs, the state’s takeover of public schools, the selling off of public property, and more. Justice has not been delivered to any poor, predominantly Black city in Michigan despite the evidence, the press, and the attention from notable celebrities: Michael Moore, Erin Brockovich, and Rachel Maddow to name a few.
The attempts to isolate and silence Pinkney have been severe: sentenced up to 10 years, phone rights revoked without provocation, transported 500 miles away from family and supporters, threatened by corrections officers daily, unfounded charges of misconduct, denial of proper medical care, tampering of mail from legal counsel, and the list goes on.
Why have such extreme measures been taken against 67-year-old husband, father, minister, and community organizer Rev. Edward Pinkney? Because he is the champion, the heart, the ace-in-the-hole for anyone fighting for equality and justice for poor and disenfranchised Americans.
Rev. Edward Pinkney must be freed now because he is innocent, because he is in danger, and because his presence is sorely needed to help lead the fight for justice for the people.